Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way" to be re-published as an eBook #215

Coming soon to an on-line bookstore near you!
It has taken a while but I have finally got the go ahead to take my Wild Atlantic Way book and republish it. It was launched in June 2014, but was out of print by the end of that year. My publisher has decided not to reprint it (not enough orders/cost of print), and has finally agreed to let me take over the text for republishing.

I plan to re-release the book through Amazon Createspace for print versions, though I don't expect this to yield much in the way of sales. The estimated cost to buy (with no royalties for me) will be about €20 + postage & packaging - way too expensive for a book of this type. But I also plan to release it as an eBook through Kindle Direct Publishing - I have better hopes for this. There will be quite a bit of work for me to republish - mostly in formatting the text and photos. I plan to replace 2-3 of the photos, but make no changes to the text apart from two typos. At least I do not have to rewrite or add in new sections. Work will start on this in the next week or so - I'd love to get it out before the end of June. Watch this space!

Photo by Deryck Tormey.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Finishing #TheEnd #My500Words #217

Finally - day 31 of the Jeff Goins 500 word challenge has arrived. I did it! I noticed as I checked back over all the posts I have done that I missed one. Day 23 was about "The End" - instead of doing two posts I am combining "The End" with "Finishing".

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
Jeff Goins describes the 500 word challenge as a "marathon, not a sprint". I found it difficult at times to figure out what to write in response to the daily prompts that Goins provides. In one sense I don't feel like I have finished - doing this challenge is part of a 366 day challenge to write a post everyday for a year. Over the past month Goins has not just provided me with prompts, but he gave me reasons to write. 500 words is a lot when you have nothing written. As I wrote each post I regularly checked (using Microsoft Word's word count feature) how many words I had written. Every single post is over 500 words - once I got going each day, it was hard to stop. I liked the discipline of the challenge even though I did not always write interesting material.

Looking back on my posts - none of them are fictional. Part of what Goins does is help writers to write - I'm guessing most are fiction writers who need help to get an idea onto paper, or a book to a publisher. This was not my aim - I have absolutely no imagination for writing fiction and have no ambition to write a blockbuster novel. Everything I wrote during the month was fact - I especially enjoyed writing about my past. Some readers have mentioned that they liked it too (thank you!).

The end of this challenge coincides with the end of the academic year. At work at the this week it will be all about getting results signed off for our Exam Boards next week. In two weeks time students will get their results. Not all will achieved what they aimed for, while many others will do better than they had hoped. Some will fail and will have to come back in August to do the  repeat exams. While this will suck right now, I earnestly hope that each and every student who has failed will learn from it and do better the next time. There is no shame in failing an exam - it is not The End.

In 30 days I have written over 15,000 words. It just goes to prove that this can be done. Had someone said to me that I would write this much in just 30 days I would not have believed them. I feel that I have achieved something and have reached a goal set by another person  (Jeff Goins) who I don't even know. I have 216 more posts to go this year and right now I have no idea what I will write about tomorrow. The end of the 500 words challenge is just the beginning of the rest of the year.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Innocence #My500Words #218

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.

- Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here, 1975)

Mum says I am three months old in this photo which
would mean it was taken in January 1960. (The car is a
Morris Minor, and that's my Mum to the right).
It's day 30 of the Jeff Goins 500 Word Challenge and today's task is to write about "childhood", "innocence", "ignorance", "dreams and hopes". I was born in the 50s (just about - October 1959) and grew up in the 1960s. This was the decade of flower power and free love - but all this had passed me by before I realised what it was. Hippies were mystical creatures that existed in far off places like Dublin and America. I didn't grow my own hair until about 1972 - the 1960s was strictly short back and sides style hair cuts in Harry Ringwood's barbers in Enniscorthy. The whole decade seemed to pass by very quickly, and the older I get the less memories of it I retain. It was a decade of school, religion, and playing. My favourite TV programmes were The Monkees, Robin Hood, and The High Chaperral. When I was very young I loved Wanderly Wagon and Jimmy O'Dea telling stories. Cartoons like "The Pink Panther" and "Tom & Jerry" were very popular in our house. The one thing thing that bugged me was that we only had RTÉ television in our house - every one else seemed to have BBC and HTV (ITV Wales) as well, but we lived in single channel land on the wrong side of a hill and could not pick up a strong enough signal from Wales. I was so jealous of the boys in school talking about what they had seen on Blue Peter and (later) Match of the Day. Little did I know that 50 years later I would not be able to count the number of TV stations I have in my own house.

My best friend in school was Barry Brennan - we were inseparable. He came to our house to play, and I went to his. He lived in Carnew so he was a "townie", so exotic places like Byrnes sweetshop were just down the road for him. I was so jealous. His back yard was Wembley, Croke Park, and Landsdowne Road to us - we were Georgie Best, Mick O'Connell, and Mike Gibson. Innocent times indeed. I have not met Barry (I'm guessing) since the 1980s. We hooked up last year online via Linkedin, and promised each other to meet - maybe some day we will.

Above all the 1960s was a decade with my Mum - she brought us everywhere. As we were small she had to bring us everywhere she went. She was from Gorey, so we were familiar with the houses of all her friends - it was non-stop visiting. She also brought us on her weekly shopping - I have fond memories of Jim Browne's shop in Carnew with everything seemingly being wrapped up in brown paper and string. She bought us to Mrs Doyles after Sunday Mass - we loved this 'cos we always got to play with their toys which always seemed to be better than ours. Dad was great for bringing us all on picnics. We played games like "I Spy" and guess the make of the next car we would meet on the road. And we sang Yellow Submarine in the car just like every other family in the 1960s. Innocent childhood memories.

I was ignorant of what was going on in the 1960s. The Vietnam War was on, but all I remember about this was that every evening on the News a helicopter would be reported shot down. The Troubles in Northern Ireland were starting - but that was far away. Seán Lemass was Taoiseach for most of the 1960s, but I remember nothing about him. Towards the end of the decade I got to know The Beatles, but the (one) radio in our house was always tuned to RTÉ Radio and I remember praying that someone would play a Beatles song on the radio - but they hardly ever did.

The quote at the top of this post is taken from the song "Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Part I" from the Wish You Were Here album by Pink Floyd. Here they are (minus Roger Waters) in "Live at Knepworth" in 1990...

Friday, May 27, 2016

Write What You Know #FreeDay #My500Words #219

Today is day 29 of the Jeff Goins 500 Words Challenge, and it is is basically a free day. He advises us to write about "anything you know well that you don't have to research". It can be academic or informal - so today I was at the EdTech 2016 Conference and today's 500 words is about this.

The Irish Learning Technology Association's Annual EdTech Conference was held in the Law Society Building in Blackhall Place - I had never been there before. Due to work commitments I could not attend the first day yesterday, but I did get to it today. Learning Technology is something I know about.

Today's proceedings opened with a keynote talk by Mike Feerick of Alison Online Courses. In a very entertaining and informative talk he told us how Alison makes money with their free courses. He is a campaigner for free education and walks the walk. He also told us a lot about cultural differences between nationalities around the world, and how small Ireland is on the overall scheme of things.

After the morning keynote there were four breakout Practitioner Paper sessions - I was the last presenter in one of these. In our session there were interesting talks about Digital Skills in Action, professional development courses for the legal profession, screen-casting for feedback, tools for solving numerical problems, and developing online tutorials for library patrons. For my turn I spoke about reflecting on 10 years using YouTube (what else!) for Learning and Teaching. My talk was short at 10 minutes, but nevertheless I hope that the many delegates who attended shared my enthusiasm for using video in education. The slides from my presentations are below:

During the coffee break it was great to catch up with a very dear old friend, and many other learning technology people. It was just great to be in the same room as so many other educators who are as passionate about Technology Enhanced Learning as I am. After coffee I attended a super presentation on Moodle Analytics and how they inform us on student behavior. There were so many interesting looking talks in the other three that I would have liked to attend - but that's the way conferences like this work. You can't attend everything.

Following lunch, the very entertaining Tom Farrelly of IT Tralee talked to us about designing and developing online "units" for international students (note to self - this is free and is a fantastic free resource, so contact NCI International Office on Monday). We also saw the results of a survey on VLEs which made for interesting listening - particularly the perception by students that the only technology us Lecturers use is PowerPoint.

The final session was a group of Gasta rapid-fire micro presentations. These were fun and interesting, but 5 minutes each was very short. Some presenters found themselves rushing to finish and get as much information out as possible - enthusiasm bursting out of each presenter.

The day went by far too quickly - you know you are enjoying yourself when this happens. Well done to all the organizers on a super day. One to remember.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

My Eulogy #My500Words #220

Day 28 of the Jeff Goins 500 Words Challenge is a bit morbid - I have to write my own eulogy. I must imagine what someone might say at my funeral if I had passed away unexpectedly. What would I want them to say?

I don't know who would write my eulogy, but I think I would want this to be my brother Joe. This is what I imagine he might say...

Eugene O'Loughlin
Born: 7th October, 1959
Died: 26th May, 2016

We are gathered today to say "good bye" to my brother Euge. He was also a brother to Kathleen and Brian, a son to Joe and Phil, a father to Claire, Kate, and Vicki, an uncle to many nieces and nephews, and a cousin to many. All our family will all miss him terribly. He was very much a family man and was devoted to Roma and his three girls.

Euge was my older brother by just 11 months and we grew up together in a close knit family. Though we lived on a farm, he never wanted to be a farmer. He would never have made a good farmer anyway - he once crashed the tractor he was driving in to the back of a combine-harvester I was driving in the middle of a big field at the great speed of about 1 mph! So he left us to go to College in the Big Smoke. He seemed to have spent an awful long time as a student, but he eventually graduated with a doctorate in 1988. He never forgot his Wicklow roots, and loved visiting Ballingate at the weekends. He also was a great man to have the family over to his house in Skuna Bay (Ballygarrett) where we had many great dinners and sing-songs.

Over the past few years Euge has written a lot on his website and in his books. We have read about his travels, exploits, thoughts, and deeds almost everyday. For a fairly shy man he was not afraid to post his thoughts online. He was also the O'Loughlin family tree man and he loved to dig deep into our family history - looking for connections between ancestors and if we were related to famous people. Anytime he found something interesting he couldn't wait to tell us all about it.

In addition to his family, Euge had two big passions in his life - education, and riding his Harley-Davidson. He was a committed lecturer and teacher, and worked hard for all his students. I think he was at his happiest in work when he was standing in front of a busy class of students who were willing to learn. He loved working in on-line education, but it was as a Lecturer in the National College of Ireland where he was happiest. As a teacher as well on YouTube, the world and NCI have lost one of the most passionate of educators. He loved his big motorbike and made many long trips to Spain and Portugal as well as riding it in and out to work. He loved to show the bike off and make lots of noise. There's one more biker in heaven!

He had great plans for retirement, which alas he will not now see. He wanted to travel and see more of the world. He wanted to ride his Harley every day if he could. He wanted to take his grand-children to see football matches. He wanted to write more books. He wanted to grow old and spend some of his pension on good wines and whiskey. He wanted to hold Roma's hand some more.

There's no doubt that Euge was devoted to Roma - his companion for the last 35 years. She was always part of the O'Loughlin family and we hope that we will keep her close to our hearts. To Claire, Kate, and Vicki - I know that he would want you to support and love your Mum always.

Finally - Euge always said he wanted to be cremated, and that his ashes be put into the sea. Cahore Point in Wexford was his choice of location. So please join us after this service to say a final farewell to Eugene.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Work #My500Words #221

With five days to go I am at Day 27 of the Jeff Goins 500 Words Challenge - today is about to telling about my work experiences. I have had just two "real jobs" - the first was with the e-Learning company CBT Systems (later SmartForce) and then my current job as a Lecturer at NCI. More about these later.

Baling straw, Orkney Islands 3
Some of the most enjoyable work I ever did - baling straw!
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
When you grow up on a farm as I did, there are always plenty of jobs and a variety of work to do. From an early age one of my jobs was to collect eggs from our battery hens - to a small boy it seemed like we had thousands of hens, but it was more likely a few hundred. We collected the eggs on cardboard trays and learned at an early age to be careful with these fragile and precious items. Later at about age 12, I was given a brilliant new job on the farm during the harvest - to drive the tractor and trailer in the field for my Dad and his helpers when they were loading bales of straw onto the trailer. Dad put the tractor in the lowest crawling gear as possible and all I had to do was steer. When we got near the edge of the field, Dad took over for the turnaround and I was James Hunt for another few minutes. Later, as an older teenager I got to drive the tractor for real while baling straw. Our farm was a hive of activity during the harvest - in addition to our own harvest we also cut corn and baled straw for many neighbouring farms. I loved this too.

For a short period after graduating from College I worked for McLernon Computer who provided PCs to pharmacies. This was in early 1989 when hardly any pharmacy had a computer - so it was very much a green-field activity. My job was to install and train the users in how to use the new system. It was quite a complicated system to use, and of course many pharmacists had never used a computer before. After about 6 weeks in this job I got a new job with a company called CBT Systems (CBT = Computer Based Training). My employee number was 34. I loved this job right from the start - I was involved in creating training courses (to be delivered on floppy disk). I knew I was good at this and that I was happiest at educating others. I started in CBT Systems in March 1989. I was lucky to survive a round of redundancies in 1991, and also lucky to gain promotion to Director level. The company went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange in 1995 and I was suddenly into a world of stock options and international travel. While I liked this work, I found management to be a much higher level of pressure - but I was making a lot of money on stock options for about three years. I was not a nice person during this time - I felt greedy. I don't think I would be good as a rich person!

By 2002 CBT Systems has transformed into SmartForce and our world fell apart as there were two big rounds of redundancies that year - I was let go in the second round. A former colleague told me about a new course in a place that I had never heard of - the National College of Ireland. It was an e-Learning course for which they needed part-time Lecturers - what lucky timing for me. In 2003 I was made permanent and have loved (almost) every minute of my work in the College. Working in education must be one of the most rewarding life experiences - and I get paid to do what I love. Academic freedom (such as it is) allows me lots of opportunity to do things like set up a YouTube Channel and go to Conferences. Our holidays are longer (34 vs 22 days in SmartForce) - which gives me a wonderful break in the summer. I get to learn and teach many different subjects, and my current involvement in Data Analytics courses makes me feel like a pig in shite (still a bit of a farmer in me!).

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Disappointment #My500Words #222

It's Day 26 of the My 500 Words Challenge and today's task is to write about disappointment, to (as Jeff Goins puts it) "tell the story, confess the failure, and help us learn with you. How can we, even in the midst of disappointment and despair, still find hope?".

First there are many levels of disappointment. I've just finished reading a book: "The Crusades" by Abigail Archer, which I was very disappointed with. I get disappointed every time I check my Lotto tickets, or don't win a bottle of wine in a draw. Some meals out in a restaurant are disappointing, and even the odd pint is disappointing. Some pricey wines are disappointing, but that leaves me satisfied with the cheaper stuff!

Paris Tuileries Garden Facepalm statue.jpg
Caïn, by Henri Vidal.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
In sport the big disappointments are about being a fan of the Ireland soccer team - I was disappointed when Wim Kieft scored that deflected goal for The Netherlands to knock Ireland out of Euro '88, when Salvatore Schillaci knocked us out of Italia '90, when Gaizka Mendieta scored the wining goal for Spain in the penalty shoot-out in Japan-Korea 2002, and when Thierry Henry handled the ball to knock us out in the play-off for South Africa 2010. The only representative sport I ever played was Gaelic football - in school we were knocked out of a few competitions, while in Trinity I played for the 2nd football team - no major disappointments as we were shite.

I did have some disappointments with jobs I applied for. In 1988 I was offered a position in an e-Learning company called Intuition - I would be starting in 3-4 weeks. I had just finished my PhD and was relieved and pleased with myself to get a job. However, the weeks passed and there was no communication from Intuition, and I gradually realised that I would not get the job. I was gutted. I also had some disappointments applying for other jobs and promotions I would have like to have got. Hopefully I won't be disappointed on this front again as I do not intend applying for any more jobs - retirement is in less than 10 years time!

By far the biggest disappointment in my life was failing my second year repeat exams in Trinity. It was the end of September or early October 1980 and I was confident I would pull off a pass just like I had somehow done with the first year exams 12 months earlier. I walked confidently to the hall of the Chemistry building to look up the results on the Notice Board inside - no websites or emails in those days. I remember giving a thumbs up to a friend outside the door who already knew that I had failed - I should have got a clue when he did not look me in the eye. When I saw my results I was crushed. How could this have happened? It wasn't by a narrow margin that I had failed, but by a considerable amount. I lived with this failure for a few years and I don't think I really got over it until I graduated from Trinity seven years later with a PhD. Despite this disappointment, it was one of the most salutary lessons in my life - I never looked back. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Travel #My500Words #223

I am now up to Day 25 of the My 500 Words Challenge - not long to go now to the finish! Today I will write about "travel".

In the year 2000 I travelled to India on a business trip while working with SmartForce - it was one of the longest that I had taken part in. Previously I had been to the UK, Germany, Canada, and the United States on business trips. This one was set up for me to establish partnerships with Indian e-Learning companies so that content development could be outsourced. While most of the trip was very forgetful, I did have one experience that I enjoyed: a visit to the Elephant Caves on Gharapuri Island near Bombay (Mumbai). For some reason I decided to wear my Ireland jersey, and I was hosted by two Indian men from one of the companies I was visiting - the trip started out at the Gate of India and a short boat ride took me to an island where columns and statues of Hindu Gods were carved out of the rock. One of the most fascinating things I have ever seen. 

Another business trip brought me to the Grand Canyon in Arizona - easily the most breath-taking sight I have ever seen. Myself and some colleagues in SmartForce hired a plane to fly over the Canyon - what an experience! That moment when we were flying along quite low and then passed over the edge of the Canyon - wow! The earth dropped away beneath us.

In today's world I am not that well travelled. My first time outside Ireland was in 1975 when I was almost 16 - an exchange with a French student who lived in St Etienne. The next summer I was off again - this time to Paris and Normandy. My first holiday abroad was my honeymoon to Poreč in Yugoslavia - the part that is now in Croatia. I have been on holiday to Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, USA, UK, Austria, and Morocco - in addition to the business trips above. I reckon I have been to 13 countries outside of Ireland. Not bad I suppose, but I want to see a lot more. Experiencing other cultures is part of life - we don't have to go that far back to when our ancestors hardly ever set foot outside this country. Roma and I have many dreams and plans to travel when we retire. I also feel that there are a few more European trips on my motorbike still left in me.

When I travel I avoid Irish bars - there's one just across the road from my house that I can go to any time I want. I try to eat and drink whatever the locals are eating and drinking - and try to bring fond memories home. Of course when I travel I take lots of photos - so memories are easier. With the exception of the Passo Tonale ski resort in Italy, where hardly anyone spoke English, I have never had problems communicating - almost everyone speaks English. The only other language that I have a few words in is French - but when I try it in France the locals quickly respond in English.

Travel really does broaden the mind - I am very jealous of today's young people who move all over the world with ease. It's the one thing I wish I had done more of when younger. During my College days I did not travel - almost unheard of now.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Cut the Fluff (and grading assessments) #My500Words #224

Day 24 of the 500 Words Challenge is an unusual one - "cut the fluff". According to Jeff Goins everyone "has their pet peeves". He doesn't like "fluff and useless words that only take up space". Today he wants us to "just get to the point" and write without using the word "that" or "very". Curiously - for the first time in this Challenge he does not give us a subject.

For most of the past three weeks since semester II ended in the College I have been grading exam scripts and continuous assessments. Grading is a difficult job at times - how do I decide whether to award 16 or 17 marks out of 25 for an answer to a question?

Image source: MindSumo.
Some grading is straightforward - in my statistics exams if you calculate the right answer you get full marks in the question. If a student makes a mistake I'll dock one mark, two mistakes I'll dock two marks, and so on. But where explanations are required it is not so easy to give full marks as I can almost always point out something else which could have been written. In my opinion high marks should be awarded for something extra, eg give two examples instead of one, compare your answer to the literature, show extra reading on the subject, show expert knowledge, and demonstrate higher order learning. I have grading rubrics and many year's experience to guide me. Also in the College we have a second marking system where a colleague will review and grade some sample papers. As is normal in all Colleges, we have external examiners as well.

The hardest part of grading is when I add up all the marks and have to write a fail grade on the cover of the exam script. In my early days in the College I remember mentioning to a colleague I "had failed students in an exam", he retorted I had not failed the students - the students had "failed themselves". I keep this in mind when I am grading. In the end the mark is a judgement on my part I have to stand over. Students can request a feedback and review of their exam papers - this is done within a week of results being published. For feedback I often get one or two students who just want feedback on their exam, where they did well, and where they lost marks. Sometimes however I get a request for a feedback session when a student feels he/she should have got a higher grade. I go through the paper with them - in the feedback sessions we are not allowed to change grades (unless a mistake is discovered). Every time I have had a feedback session students are accepting of their grade as I show them how it was determined by me. Following the feedback session students can request a formal review of their grade if they are still not happy - so far in my 13 years in the College I have not had such a request in any of my exam papers. It is only when these sessions are finished when the academic year is truly over.

Cut the fluff really works! While writing the above I use the word "that" eight times, and did not use the word "very" at all. So I changed the eight occurrences of "that", eg I replaced "for that part of" with "in". I also replaced "that" with "which", and simply deleted it several times.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fear #My500Words #225

I am now at Day 22 of the My 500 Words Challenge and today's task is to write about fear. This is one thing we all have in common. Many things make us afraid, anxious, and worried. It's what we do with this fear and how we overcome it that makes us human. We can't wallow in it - do we fight it or give in?

As far as I know I don't have any phobias like being afraid of spiders or open spaces. I'm not good at heights - once when in the CN Tower in Toronto my feet would not move when I attempted to walk on the glass floor 553-metres above ground. I don't know if this was fear of falling, but I physically could not do it - my feet would not move.

I did once in my life experience real fear and terror. On 20th April 1986 I was wind surfing on Sandymount Strand with my brother Brian (at the time we lived on Strand Road). I was not an experienced wind-surfer, but I could mange to move around in moderate breezes OK.

Evening Press - 21st April 1986.
We got on well and at one stage met for a chat quite far out to sea. We decided to swap boards - this was not a good idea. I was having difficulty with the new board falling in a lot. I started to get tired, I also had a thin wetsuit on, and I was also getting cold. The wind picked up, and it was an off-shore breeze. The tide was also going out - I was in trouble. 

I kept trying to get the sail up on the board, but tiredness and cold (especially my hands) meant that I kept falling back into the sea. I was determined not to leave the board and to try to make it back to shore. The sea was shallow enough for me to walk, but with the wind and the tide in the wrong direction for me I was quickly blown further out to sea. Now I was getting worried. Brian could see I was in difficulty and bravely came out to me - I was never so glad to see him. We decided that he would go back to shore and get help - I was definitely scared and alone when he left.

It's a weird feeling being on your own in Dublin Bay surrounded by a million people who don't know your life is in danger. Little did I know it, but several people on the shore saw that I was in difficulty and phoned the emergency services - this was in the days before mobile phones.

At this stage I could just about stand on the sea-bed on my toes and keep my face above water. The wind was in my face and was also whipping up the waves - for every step I made forward, I was being washed and blown back two steps. I'm certain hypothermia was setting in - I got the feeling of euphoria that is often associated with the cold.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I could stand firm and the water was only up to my waist - I had come to a sandbank. Now it was a lot easier to move. I could now work my way back to shore by staying in the shallower water - what relief. Brian came rushing out from the shore and took my board and sail - I could barely carry them. We were greeted at water's edge by a Garda in bare feet with his trousers rolled up to his knees! Despite my ordeal, I thought this was the funniest thing. He told me that there had been five separate calls to the emergency services and that the Dún Laoghaire RNLI lifeboat was out to sea looking for me. He was quickly satisfied that there had been a genuine danger and let me go back to my apartment across the road. I quickly got the wetsuit off and climbed into bed with two quilts to warm up. 

The clipping above, which I still have, reminds me of my mortality. Though I never met the RNLI crew who were looking for me, I have since had a great respect for these volunteers who sometimes have to put to sea to rescue people who do stupid things like going out windsurfing on a cold windy day. I have only tried wind-surfing a handful of times since - each time there was barely enough wind to fill a sail and the sea was almost calm. I was always very nervous and mindful of what happened to me 30 years ago, and I have the utmost respect for the power of the sea.

While out for a walk on Sandymount Strand in June 2010 when the tide was out, I made the following video from the spot where I think I was saved:

Friday, May 20, 2016

Write a Confession #My500Words #226

Day 21 of the Jeff Goins 500 Word Challenge asks me to get "honest and vulnerable" and to "write a confession". Unfortunately I don't have anything interesting like an embarrassing fact, an awkward truth, or something I wish didn't happen but did. Just last month I posted about Making Mistakes in Class (and learning from them) - I'll not bore my readers with rehashing this.

So for today's post, instead of writing a confession I will write about Confession, and delve into the 1960s when I was a boy once again.

Eugene's First Confession.

In preparation for First Holy Communion, us Catholic kids had to make our First Confession in order to be prepared for the big day. This is of course a holy sacrament, but it was more like an ordeal for a 7 year old boy. It was early 1966 and I was in 2nd class in Carnew National School in Co Wicklow - I can't remember who my teacher was. I was useless at Catechism. I couldn't remember the lines "Bless me Father..." and I was terrified of the Confession Box. I was sure to be damned for all eternity in Hell.

I made it through Confession!
First Holy Communion, May 1966.
All the talk among the boys in my class before the big day was what type of sins we would confess - did anyone have a mortal sin to confess? I recall a bit of competition between us as to who had the most sins and which sins were the best or the worst. We were also in competition to see who would get the most or least Hail Mary's as penance. None of us really knew what a sin was, even though at age 7 we were supposed to have reached the "age of reason". What we did know was that we were sinners and had to confess our sins inside a box to an old man in a church. I don't recall who the priest was at that time - no doubt he would be bored to tears listening to small children and their trivial misdemeanors.

It so happened at that time that I raided my Mum's handbag and nicked a thruppenny bit to buy sweets. When found out not only did I do penance at home, but I also had to confess to the priest. The good thing was that I now had a real "sin" and could tell this in Confession to the priest. And be forgiven! Trouble was that nobody told me that you only had to confess each sin once, so the next time I gave the same sin again, and the next, and another. It was only when I told my Mum this that she put me right - I told you I was useless at Catechism!

As I got older the frequency of going to Confession decreased dramatically. In secondary school I confessed my "sins" (probably mostly cursing), but the priest asked me if I had "passed the seed of life". Nuff said!

1986 was the last time I was in a Confession Box. It was the year that I was getting married and I had to get "Letters of Freedom" from various places I had lived, including Gardiner Street Church. I had to wait until Mass was over and I noticed that I was sitting beside the Confession Box. In I went and had a chat with one of the most enlightened priests (a Jesuit) that I have ever met. There was no talk of sins and damnation - more of a chat about life and my upcoming marriage. Despite this positive experience I have not now been to Confession for over 30 years (is that a confession?), and am in no hurry to go again. 

Will I ever go to Confession again? Ask me on my death bed!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Write about Justice #My500Words #227

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

- George Orwell, Animal Farm (1945)

I saw an animated movie version of Animal Farm by Halas and Batchelor (1954) when I was young - I remember crying when Boxer was being driven off in a van to the knacker's yard near the end of the movie. I was young and had no understanding of what George Orwell was writing about in his novel "Animal Farm". Even later in the 1970s when I read the book (it was on the English Leaving Certificate reading list) I don't think I understood what the book was really about. The whole movie is available on YouTube here. According to information on the YouTube page the CIA "paid for the filming" as is was "part of the U.S. cultural offensive during the Cold War". If you grew up in the 1960s and 1970s the Cold War was always in the background - the Communist/Capitalist debate raged for decades. Propaganda would have us believe that in socialist USSR, where everybody was "equal", there was no justice. And of course - we all had justice in the West.

I don't think anybody really believes in Injustice - I don't imagine someone getting up in the morning and saying to themselves: "I'm going to be unjust today". Our legal justice system is based on an "Innocent until proven guilty" foundation - even a cold blooded murderer, caught in the act with blood on his hands standing over the dead body shouting "die you bastard", gets justice in our courts. Recently there has been a lot of coverage of the "Justice for the 96" Liverpool fans who died in Hillsborough in 1989. I remember watching this unfold on TV and being horrified at what went on. Just four years earlier I attended the Ireland vs Italy friendly soccer match in Dalymount Park (5th February, 1985), and got caught up in the crush when the gates were opened due to over-crowding. I was terrified. I was one of the few who had a ticket to the match, but this was never checked for as the FAI opened the gates and thousands poured in. Many in the Justice for the 96 campaign feel they will not have final justice until someone, preferably Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, faces a day in court. To many justice, is served by the "unlawful killing" verdict from the enquiry, for others this is not enough.

It is not easy to determine what the right thing to do is - we all think that we would instinctively know the difference between right and wrong. I know it is wrong for me to steal a loaf of bread from the shop - and that I could be fined or even end up in jail for doing so. But what if a starving man with no money does the same thing to feed his starving family. Is it just that he be fined or end up in jail?

One of the topics that I cover in some of my classes is "Ethics in Technology". I usually start out with asking the class what ethics is and would they always know what the right thing to do is. Usually I get a positive response to this question. Then I tell them the story of a runaway train bearing down on five railway workers, and ask them what would they do if they were the driver. Would they turn the train down a siding (where there is only one railway worker) or do nothing and let the train kill the five workers? Mostly the class will opt for the siding under the Utilitarian Principle of "the greater good". This story is taken from an on-line lecture series, "Justice", by the brilliant Professor Michael Sandel of Harvard University - he opens the first lecture with this story (see the first five minutes in the video below). But what happens next? Just when you think you know what you would do in this situation, Prof Sandel goes on to develop this story, and others, to show how hard it is to answer the question "What's the  right thing to do?"

I highly recommend Prof Sandel's lecture series on "Justice" - it's the only series of on-line lectures that I have viewed from start to finish.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Write in Someone Else's Voice #Fail #My500Words #228

Welcome to Day 19 of the My 500 Words Challenge - today I have to write in someone else's voice. Even as I start this post I have no idea what I'm going to do with this one. Jeff Goins' advice is to "borrow the style of your favorite novelist or create an alter ego version of your own voice. Get creative, and have fun". I think this idea is strictly for writers who are looking for ways to get creative - I suppose novel writers to this all the time with their characters. 

So I woke up early this morning (05:45) and knew I would not get back to sleep - immediately the thought of the "Write in Someone Else's Voice" challenge came into my mind and would not let go. I had no option but to get up and start on my 500 words. After the 146 words above I'm still stuck. The first thing I did was to look up the list of blogs added to the Jeff Goins Blog, where he invites bloggers undertaking the 500 word challenge, for inspiration. My blog is number 2782 on this list, which I added on Day 1 of the challenge - in the 18 days since I started this challenge, 29 more have been added (including one by one of my own students!). Sadly most blogs posted are nothing more than people looking to promote their own blogs. In the 20 or so I looked up for inspiration, only one was taking part in the 500 word challenge. 

So no help there. Naturally I turned to Google.

I searched for "writer's block" and discovered that others obviously got writer's block too. There's even lists like "The 10 Types of Writers' Block (and How to Overcome Them)" to help you in situations like this - my first reaction to a list like this is that someone made a list when they were stuck for something to write about!). The Centre for Writing Studies also provides tips for overcoming writer's block - interestingly the advice is divided into "Weak Strategies" (like "using trial and error" and "insisting on a perfect draft"), and "Effective Strategies" (like "taking notes" and "satisficing (satisfy + suffice)". Even Jeff Goins himself provides "14 Tricks that Work" to overcome writer's block. Interesting ones here are "Go for a walk" (I can't now - it's 06:45 and I'm still in my dressing gown), "listen to music" (I almost never have music on when I'm at the computer - too distracting), and "brew some coffee" (I prefer tea). While Goins' ideas are brilliant, I think his best (what he calls the "fail-proof solution") is that "You overcome writer’s block by writing". 

All this bullsh*t is to show that some people (like me) cannot just write on command. I'm disappointed with myself that I cannot write in someone else's voice and failing today's challenge - but I'm not going to force myself to do so. I thought about stopping and coming back later in the day, but it is 06:48 right now and my alarm clock is just about to go off. So I'll stop right here.

(I think I wrote above while I was still asleep - does that count as someone else's voice?).

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Waiting #My500Words #229

Day 18 of the Jeff Goins 500 Words Challenge is to write about "Waiting", and by Jaysus do we all wait a  lot!

Image source: Cardinal Chronicle.
Somethings we just have to wait for: paint to dry, the next episode of Game of Thrones, the traffic lights to change to green, an old person to cross the road, our turn in the queue at the shop, the rain to stop, the summer to come, the bathroom, the waiter to look our way, sunburn to stop hurting, the ads to be finished, or wine to breath.

But there's nothing like waiting to make people angry. I once had an appointment to see a specialist in St Vincent's hospital. The appointed time was 10:00 in the morning. What I did not know was that everyone else was given the same time. I was the last of dozens to be seen at about 17:00 (no exaggeration). Sadly today for many people a 7 hour wait in a hospital is nothing. 

Sometimes people don't want to wait - and feel they are entitled to jump a queue. Back on the 14th February 2010 I blogged about being "Bossed out of it for the last time" when a woman who only had "one thing" to buy tried (successfully) to skip past me and one other person in the queue. I'm sure we have all been in the situation where a person with the "right change" who is "in a hurry" feels that the rest of us losers should get out of their way. In the recent words of Ross O'Carroll-Kelly (in a tweet): 
For non-RO'C-K fans, FRO means "fock right off").

Like most people I'm not good at waiting. I get frustrated driving a car around the city because I cannot go to the top of the lights. I will sometimes wait a little longer at home before leaving so that I don't have to wait as much on the road. Road rage is the outcome of failing to wait for others on the road - remember, you don't own that space in front of you. Imagine if everybody had manners on the road all the time? Wait your turn.

There's the thing - the mannerly thing to do is to wait your turn. But often I find if I wait for my turn, others take advantage of this. At the Gaiety Theatre to see "The Matchmaker" a few weeks ago a man blatantly positioned himself in front of me while I was waiting my turn at the bar during the interval. I genuinely think he didn't see a problem with doing this - what an asshole. Did I do anything - no.

Perhaps the most important wait of all - the thirstiest Irishman on the hottest day will wait for his pint of Guinness to settle. And there's no one who embodies waiting more than Joe McKinney in the famous 1994 ad for Guinness - enjoy:

Monday, May 16, 2016

Pick a Fight #My500Words #230

Day 17 of the 500 word challenge is to "Pick a fight" - this is getting harder! In essence it is a short statement of purpose that represents what I believe in. As Jeff Goins puts it this "needs to be a hill worth dying on".

Image source: Meme Generator.
I'm picking a fight with dress codes!

Recently The Guardian newspaper reported that a receptionist was "sent home from PwC for not wearing high heels" - what's wrong with the world that this sort of shite can happen? I don't wear a suit and tie (nor heels!) to work, though I did for a short time in the two jobs I have had. In my early days in CBT Systems I wore a proper shirt and tie - almost everyone did in the office and it seemed the done thing. This was the early 1990s and most of the company's business was in the UK. We started to lose the ties when CBT turned west to America where there have always been more relaxed attitudes to dress codes. Our British colleagues continued to wear suits, but did relax on Fridays. On one occasion I visited the UK office (near Heathrow) and spotted at Reception a sign explaining that while the staff were "dressing down" on Fridays that it was not a sign that they valued their customers any less. Why explain? For most of my time in CBT Systems/SmartForce it was casual all the way.

When I came to NCI - ties were back on the agenda again. Feck! All the other male lecturers seemed to be wearing ties, so I decided to do so to "fit in" even though I hated it. Some even wore suits, not me. Then one day a new German colleague did not wear a tie, the world did not collapse, our teaching did not get any worse, in fact I don't think anyone really noticed that we were dressing down every day. Dress down Friday came to the College - this is now my excuse to wear jeans and my Harley-Davidson themed t-shirts. Every day I see suits around the IFSC - they do not make people work any better. Every time I see a suit I see someone trying to look important (even though I know not everyone is). Every time I see a suit I see someone spending a lot of money trying to look good, and a lot of effort to iron shirts. Every time I see a suit I see someone trying to differentiate themselves from others. I do not think any differently of anyone just because they are wearing a suit - nor do I think differently if they are not. 

What about in class I hear you say? I really think it is just stupid to be the only person in a classroom wearing a suit or tie. I've never had a student fill out a feedback form with "Eugene would have been a better lecturer in a suit", or "my learning experience was diminished when Eugene stopped wearing a tie".

Feck suits! Feck ties! 

Just because I do not wear them to work does not mean that I do not take my work or my colleagues less seriously. I've often been told that you should "dress to impress" - I do not insist on this when students are making presentations, it is entirely their own choice what they wear.

I do have one suit - strictly for weddings, funerals, and Christmas. For when I actually want to wear one for family occasions.

Pin-striped suits are the worst - I never see one on Michael O'Leary, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, or the guys in Status Quo. Check out what happens at 2 minutes and 20 seconds into the video below after Quo received a BRIT Award for Outstanding Contribution in 1991. Love it!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Hope #My500Words #231

This is a tough one - today's 500 words are about "Hope". Jeff Goins tells us to "Take whatever fears and insecurities you have, your internal questions and doubts, and turn them into words that inspire". Easier said than done!

Photo by Obama-Me.
Writing to inspire - that's a tall order so I won't try it. But I do hope from time to time. I hope for ordinary things like that I will stay healthy, that I will keep my job, that my motorbike won't break down, that the sun will shine, that the traffic will not be so bad on the way to work, that Preston North End win their next match, that Ireland win the World Cup, that there is a God, that I'll be able to keep it (you know what) up for a while longer, that I'll lose weight, that all my students pass their exams, that my classes are interesting, that I finish my next book, that I don't burn the BBQ, that I win the Lotto, that the WiFi signal will always be strong, that there will always be a bottle of wine priced at a tenner or less, that the queue I join will be the quickest (it never is), that Guinness's and Irish Distillers never go out of business, that I meet Jesus in Heaven, that the Dubs can be beaten, that I'll see an episode of "Reeling in the Years" where Kilkenny doesn't win the All-Ireland Hurling Final, that I don't fart at an inappropriate time, that my breath doesn't smell, that I don't get dementia, that Denis O'Brien stops suing people, that politicians will be honest, that the Luas strike will end, that we in Ireland stop arguing over abortion, that drug pushers fuck off and die somewhere, that the Palestinians get justice, that I can get a ticket to the All-Ireland final, that Leicester City win the Premier League again, that Donald Trump does not become President of the United States, that Hilary Clinton does not become President of the United States, and finally that I'll get to the end of the Jeff Goins 500 Words a Day Challenge!

Some of my more personal hopes are mostly family related. I hope that my three girls are happy and make a success of their lives. I hope that they will have families of their own and that some day (not too soon!) they will make me a grandfather. I hope that they can afford to buy their own place and that they will always be successful. I hope that they burst the shite out of any glass ceilings that get in their way. I hope they meet the partner that these beautiful and fantastic girls deserve. I hope that I am always there for them. I hope that I am the one man they can turn to no matter what - no questions asked. I hope that some day I will bring my grand-sons and grand-daughters to Croke Park like my own grandfather brought me. I hope RB will always love me (as I do her - still mad about you!).

Halfway - Time to Evaluate #My500Words #232

"Believe you can and your halfway there" 
Theodore Roosevelt

Image Source: Economy Watch.

It's Day 15 of the Jeffs Goins 500 word challenge and for today he asks us to evaluate how we are getting on and to "share how you're feeling and what this challenge has meant to you so far". So far I have written about food, lists, persuasion, my day, an alternative me, and a letter to my five-year old self. Much of this is stuff I would not have blogged about before, or even thought about writing. Some items such as telling someone else's were particularly difficult to come up with an idea to write about. Every post I had ever written in this blog was of my own choosing - it's very different to commit to writing under the instruction of someone else. It's a bit like being back in school getting homework every day. This is a good discipline. In a way I feel a bit of a cheat because I had wanted to wirite a blog post every day during 2016. But this challenge is doing much more for me than making up 31 of my 366 posts.

The whole idea of the Goins challenge is for writers to improve. I'm guessing that most of the people who take up this challenge either are or want to be writers. Maybe some of them will use their 500 words in their stories or novels. Am I a better writer, or a worse one? I don't think I am any different as far as quality of writing is concerned. While I have written, and will write more, about things I wouldn't have normally done - I find some of what I have done to be trivial and of little value from a content point of view. It certainly broadens the mind to consider writing about something other than education, travel, reviews, and personal stuff that I usually write about. 

Reflection and evaluation is an important part of learning. When we learn something in class or in training We need to be able to put it to good use. If you ask yourself two simple question after a class:
  1. What have I learned?
  2. How will I use what I have learned?
Evaluation enables us to determine the quality, effectiveness, and continuous improvement of learning, understand the pros and cons of learning, and make improvements (Pappas, 2012). Otherwise what is the point of learning. Evaluation occurs before, during, and after learning. Before the class we plan for learning as a form of needs assessment. During learning there will be formative evaluation, through he likes of continuous assessment, to make the improvements. After the class we assess the learning with summative evaluation to determine outcomes. I know that many of my students study modules that they don't like, and methods they will never use. For example, will any of my students in my Statistics classes ever perform an Analysis of Variance (ANOVA)? Clearly the important thing here is that students understand that data varies, and that this variation can be measured. I'd hate to think that students would come to my class and never use anything learned in class! But if they evaluate what they learn in a constructive way - I hope they will have got something of of the class.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Write about food #My500Words #233

Today's 500 Words Challenge is to "confess an addiction to sweets or a nasty drinking habit. Of course, this isn't about just what we imbibe and consume; it's about life and conversation and the people we meet around the table". Today I have to write about food.

I grew up on a farm where my Mum always gave us super food. Sunday roasts were the best with all of us eager for the "crispy bits" from the beef. We were always fed well - unlike other people I have met over the years, we were never hungry in our house. My Mum ruled supreme in the kitchen (still does!) and she took no nonsense from us when we said "I don't like that..." - we ate our vegetables! Looking back, my Dad, my sister, and my two brothers were blessed with the best. In addition to the traditional Sunday roast I have very fond and delicious memories of scones, tea, tarts, bacon and cabbage, tea, curries with banana and coconut, roast potatoes, tea, Christmas dinners to die for, tea and sandwiches during the harvest, my sister Kathleen's Black Forest Gateau, tea, my Dad's porridge in the morning before school, tea, brown bread, stew (lots), custard, tea, trifle, plain and purl biscuits with cocoa at bedtime, and more tea. Fantastic memories of food when growing up in Ballingate. 

During my college years when I cooked for myself, my favourite (and easy) meal was 4 fried sausages (from a pack of 8), half a tin of beans, and spuds (lots). As I still had 4 more sausages and half a tin of beans - I had the same again the next day. I also ate lots of chips from the take-away.

In 1979 I met a girl who could cook - even better than my Mum. A curry started it all - the clincher was a lasagne, I was in love (with the girl - not the food silly!). Since then every day has been a gourmet experience.  Often I can come home on a Monday wondering what we will have for dinner - and suddenly I am a bit player (that's the guy who stirs stuff) in the preparation of a fantastic meal. I am the luckiest man in Ireland when it comes to food. 

And then my youngest daughter develops a talent for cooking - and tries her recipes out on me! Lucky man! Weight increase - hell yeah! Since she went to America for a work placement year I have lost a stone in weight - I love (and miss) her food. I am surrounded by top-class cooks - a man will never go hungry in my house.

The Hairy Bikers.
Image Source: www.hairybikers.com.
A confession about food and drink: I love wine. There - I said it, that's over with!

I am at my happiest sitting down at a table with Roma, Claire, Kate, and Vicki - whether it is a Chinese take-away (Crispy Chicken with Hot Honey Sauce), a pizza, a BBQ, or one of the girls' fantastic cooking extravaganzas - I love it. We have a TV in our kitchen and food programmes are on all the time. The current one is Donal Skehan's "Eat, Live, Go". I don't really pay much attention to this type of programme except when the Hairy Bikers are on - love those guys!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

About My Day #My500Words #234

It's Day 13 of the Jeff Goins My 500 Words challenge - today I have to write on the topic "Tell Us About Your Day". The idea here according to Goins is to "Don't just list the events of the day; wrap a compelling narrative around the events of the day and tell us what were the most significant moments in it". So here was my day today...

Thursday 12th May

Today started out just like any other week day - wake up to the 7 o'clock News on RTÉ Radio 1. When the announcer said it was the 12th of May my first thought that it was 100 years ago to the day that James Connolly and Seán MacDiarmada were shot in Kilmainham Gaol for their part in the 1916 Rising. The news sounded boring - the new Government's 100 day plan, IBEC moaning about new employment laws, and the Eurovision Song Contest. Over tea and brown bread I read email, Facebook and the Irish Independent. Then it was off to work on my motorbike. So ordinary.

I did write a piece for the NCI Blog just over a year ago - it was entitled "A Day In The Life of A College Lecturer". I got absolutely no reaction to it whatsoever. It was a busy day and everything that I wrote about did actually happen. I had expected some ribbing from my colleagues, but either they didn't read it, or did but said nothing.

Today's work was marking exam scripts. This is sometimes a difficult job - I get a great buzz when a student gives great answers and I can award a good grade. But I also get frustrated when I have no choice but to award a low or a fail grade. Students' futures ride on their grades and I take this responsibility very seriously. Marking exam scripts take longer for the first few - I got more done in the afternoon than in the morning.

I had lunch at my desk today (sadly - I do this a lot) so that I could leave a little early. Once a month I visit the Irish Blood Transfusion Service's Platelet Clinic in St James's Hospital - today was my 117th blood/platelets donation. It takes the guts of two hours from signing in to leaving - the donation itself takes about one and a half hours, depending on your platelet count (which varies all the time). The machine to my left in the photo below sucks out my blood and extracts the platelets - it then pumps the remaining blood back into my veins. All very mechanical and clean. During the donation I watched the 1980 movie The Long Riders on Netflix - I recall going to the cinema when it first came out to see it, and I have not seen it since. The staff at the Clinic are fantastic - very professional and will put any new donors at their ease. Why not try this yourself?

Selfie at the Platelet Clinic.

From the IBTS website:

Platelets are needed every day for the treatment of patients with

  • Cancer
  • Leukaemia
  • Premature babies
  • Major surgery
  • Burns patients
  • Accident victims who have had extensive injury
  • New born babies

However, platelets have the shortest shelf life of all blood components, lasting only 5 to 7 days. This means we have a constant need for platelet donors to ensure we meet the needs of these patients.

Marking exam scripts and giving blood - an unusual combination to say the least. They were the most "significant moments" of my day and hopefully both will have an impact on others.

Riding my bike home I was uncomfortable in my winter gear on a warm evening - time to get the summer gear out. The end of semester II exams is almost upon us in the College - definitely a sign that summer is coming!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Imagine an Alternate Reality #My500Words #235

The 8th of the 10 Commandments states "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour" (Exodus 20: 2-17) - which basically means "Don't lie". I was once called a "fucking Catholic" by a manager for refusing to lie to a client - ie tell them that something worked fine when it didn't. Honesty is the best policy, but do we all think it's just fun to fib a little now and again? Is it OK to stretch the truth a little?

I think that we all lie, or at least are not fully honest, on a regular basis - perhaps daily. As an educator I am in a position of trust - what if a student thought that a grade or a feedback comment was a lie? Or a colleague suspected I was lying? I'm sure that I have been suspected of lying, but never accused of it. 

So today I am advised by Jeff Goins to lie in 500 words - to "rewrite history, imagine an alternate reality, or just plain lie". I can't think of a "plain lie" that would challenge me to write, so I wondered if I could imagine something different?

Me in my Trinity days (1983).
In September 1980 I arrived home from Dublin to my parents house to report that I had failed the 2nd year Science repeat exams in Trinity. I was faced with a choice - repeat the year, or drop out of College. To his enormous credit, and my gratitude, my father instantly suggested that I repeat - which I did. But what would have happened if I dropped out of College?

I'm certain that I would not have ended up as a millionaire after dropping out of College like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. I would almost certainly have moved back to Carnew from Dublin and lived on the family farm. I never imagined myself being a farmer, nor did I ever want this. So I would not have been a farmer. Also - I had just started going out with Roma, a relationship would most likely not have developed if I was not in Dublin with her. 

I guess I could have tried for the Civil Service, or a job in the bank, or an insurance company. At one stage it was mentioned to me that an option might have been to work as an apprentice in a solicitor's or accountant's office - I would have hated that. Could I have ended up working in a shop? Would I have met and fallen in love with a different girl? Would I have stayed in Carnew (no offence to Carnew people intended)? It is so hard to imagine life different than the one I have now. I love the country side, but I live in the city. Had I dropped out of College I would not have met the love of my life, I would not have three wonderful daughters, I would not have a fine house, I would not have a big motorcycle, I would not be doing the job that I love. In short - that decision to repeat 2nd year back in 1980 is probably the most influential one that I have ever made. Imagining an "alternate reality" - impossible.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Persuade Me - Change the World #My500Words #236

Today I am challenged "to use your power of words to stir your reader" - I am to "write a letter or appeal, something that persuades your reader to join the cause, take sides with your movement, or simply try something new". I have decided to try to persuade readers of this blog to start their own blog - here goes!

Click to enlarge for full view.
Image source: WPVirtuoso.
According to the article "How many blogs are on the Internet", there are over 150,000,000 blogs in the world - that about one for every 50 people on our planet. Another interesting statistic is that a new blog is created somewhere in the world every half second. Many are business blogs, but most are private blogs like mine. So if you are one of the 49 out of 50 people who do not have a blog, why not try it out?

I have outlined previously why I like to blog - it's liberating and challenging. You can blog about almost anything. One of the first really successful blogs was by Julie Powell who started the Julie/Julia Project (the original blog can be found in an archive here). Each day for 365 days she recreated a recipe by the famous food writer Julia Childs - this was later turned into a book and also the 2009 movie Julie & Julia.

The 10 most popular blogs in the world are as follows:
  1. Huffington Post
  2. Boing Boing
  3. TMZ
  4. Business Insider
  5. Mashable
  6. Gawker
  7. The Daily Beast
  8. TechCrunch
  9. Perez Hilton
  10. Engadget
Perez Hilton is estimated to earn $450,000 per month (according to Income). Yep - that's over $5,000,000 per year from blogging! The top earner per month is the Huffington Post (which is really a news aggregator) at $,2330,000 per month. So you can make money from blogging, but only a tiny fraction of the world's 150,000,000 blogs make money. In 2015, my blog made me just €17.75 from the one ad that you see below this post.

So I will not be able to persuade you to blog if you want to make money. If you have a business you can set up a blog (for free) where you can tell stories about how you set up your company, customer experiences, less formal news announcements, and provide a personal link from you to your customers. Like Julie Powell you can blog about food - lots of cooks share their own recipes - our own Donal Skehan has an excellent blog called "Eat, Live, Go". Why not share that special recipe for bread or an apple tart that your grandmother gave you? 

You can also tell stories - the excellent Squid McFinnegan (who won Short Story of the Year in 2015), writes great stories that started out with him just looking for an avenue for his writing. The great thing about this is that you can publish your own work without having to go through the tough grind of getting a publisher interested. You can write a story today and your readers can enjoy it tomorrow. Anyone interested in writing should do this - to get started I really recommend the 31-day Jeff Goins 500 Word Writing Challenge, which is what I am doing now (I'm on day 11).

You can also turn your blog into a book. Websites like Blog2Print can convert your blog into a printed book - they'll even help you to sell it online through Amazon. 

Finally - creating a blog is easy. Google's Blogger and Wordpress are the most popular and you can have a blog set up with a variety of templates that you can customize later. There's nothing to stop you - so why not try it?